Scots sheep farmers in sea eagle plea to government

Many sheep farmers on the west coast and western islands of Scotland are seriously considering giving up farming due to severe livestock losses incurred since the reintroduction of white-tailed sea eagles.

The warning to Scottish government is included in a joint letter from the Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders Association, the National Sheep Association (NSA) Scotland and SAC Oban, which has been sent to the Scottish government and NatureScot.

The letter expresses serious concerns, not only regarding loss of income and future sustainability of some hill farms, but also about the mental health of people trying to make a living from sheep farming in sea eagle predatory areas.

See also: Why Scots farmers need solution to lambs lost to sea eagles

It states: “It is quite obvious that farming in these areas is being ignored, and we feel that the budget provided through NatureScot in the shape of the Sea Eagle Management Scheme is well wide off the mark of what is actually needed.

“Last year, the total money spent on compensatory measures amounted to less than £280,000.”

Since they were first released in the western isles of Scotland in 1983, the breeding of these apex predators has been such a success that there are now more than 175 breeding pairs, which are widening their territory in search of food sources and habitat.

The Scottish sheep industry says severe predation of their flocks “is increasingly difficult to manage and control”.

The group acknowledges that sea eagles bring benefits to the economy through increased tourism. For example, one nest in Mull contributes more to the economy than the whole spend of the Sea Eagle Management Scheme (SEMS), it says.

However, this makes the compensation for farmers “paltry and insulting”.

Biodiversity imbalance

The writers also say that, while sea eagles have a favourable effect on tourism, they are having a negative impact on the delicate biodiversity balance on the hills.

The letter was sent to Humza Yousaf MSP, Scotland’s first minister; minister of energy and environment Gillian Martin MSP;  Mairi Gougeon MSP, cabinet secretary for rural affairs, land reform and islands;  and Francesca Osowska, chief executive of NatureScot.

It seeks guidance and reassurance that farmers and crofters and the threat to their livelihoods from sea eagles will not be forgotten in the new Agriculture Bill.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We are aware of the concerns raised by the Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders Association with regards to sea eagle predation of livestock.

“We are continuing to work alongside NatureScot and land managers to mitigate the risks posed by sea eagle activity to livestock throughout Scotland. A response addressing the concerns the group has raised will be issued in due course.”

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